Brian Geiringer
Eli Savit and Shihab Jackson
Listen to this article here

**UPDATE: The prosecutor’s office has offered a plea deal to Jackson; he has thus far refused to accept it. For more info, please see ongoing updates on our Facebook and Instagram pages.**

**CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, it stated that Jackson is being charged with three felonies carrying a maximum of 9 years prison time. In fact, Savit’s office has charged Jackson with five felonies carrying a maximum of 19 years prison time.**

This is the story of my friend Shihab Jackson.

It’s also a story about Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit.

Two men: a felon and a prosecutor. Both are on trial. 

Let’s begin on November 3rd, 2020.

It’s Election Day. Outside Temple Beth Emeth, a 29-year-old Black Muslim man—an Egyptian-American U of M Sociology graduate named Jackson—has a spring in his step. He smirks at the giant Star of David and the giant Crucifix in front of the temple, mutters a greeting to the poll workers, and votes for the progressive prosecutor that would later decide the trajectory of his life.

The man he cast his vote for, Eli Savit, had run one hell of a campaign. 

“Our justice system is broken, and we’re all suffering because of it.” So starts the text on Savit’s campaign website. “[W]e expend far too many resources punishing people who need help. We regularly imprison people who—because of poverty, mental health issues, or addiction—find themselves trapped in the criminal system.” 

Savit’s rhetoric posed a stark contrast to the county prosecutor at the time, Brian Mackie—who frequently made harsh rulings towards citizens and lenient rulings toward police.  

Mackie had announced his retirement in 2019, leaving room for his Chief Assistant Prosecutor (and current County Judge) Arianne Slay to face Savit in the upcoming 2020 election. 

But the people of Washtenaw had an appetite for compassion in the prosecutor’s office. They wanted someone who led not with an iron fist, but with a fistful of… second chances. Bolstered by shifting public opinion (spurred by the George Floyd protests), high-profile endorsements, and a massive campaign haul, Savit wound up beating Slay decisively in the Democratic primary. 

The Savit campaign was especially appealing to someone like Jackson, who had a difficult history with Mackie’s criminal justice system. Arrested first at 17, Jackson had spent enough time in court to be familiar with local judges, assistant prosecutors, and public defenders. He had been sent to Washtenaw County Jail for 60 days in 2018 for possession of an improperly registered firearm. In many ways, the harshness of the system under Mackie had altered the course and quality of Jackson’s entire life.

So of course Jackson voted for Savit. Here was a prosecutor who promised to end cash bail, reduce racial inequalities in the justice system, and divest from punishment-based solutions—especially for non-violent, victimless, defendants. All of this applied to Jackson!

Flash forward. 

It’s a foggy morning in March of this year. I’m in the living room. My roommate drifts downstairs from her room. She looks… hollow.

I ask why. 

Jackson’s been arrested. 

She doesn’t know what happened. She’s mad at herself for not seeing the phone call at 3 a.m. All she knows is… How are we going to come up with a $10,000 bond to get him out?

I was distressed. But I was also confused. Didn’t Washtenaw County get rid of cash bail? That day kicked off my months-long investigation into Savit’s time in office. 

Thus the trial of Eli Savit began. 

As Savit came into office, ten policies from his campaign became guiding principles for his office. 

Four of these new policies dictate that his office won’t file charges against possession of specific drugs (that is,  cannabis, psilocybin, buprenorphine, and methadone). One policy mandates against charging nonviolent and consensual sex work, and one against charging minors as adults. One policy promotes leniency against driver’s license charges, and one policy advises that the prosecutor’s office recuse itself in cases alleging police officer violence. 

In spirit, these are good policies. Most of them follow through with Savit’s campaign ideology that we “expend far too many resources punishing people who need help,” and they align with emerging research showing that increasing incarceration does not make us safer

These policies are also merely guidelines from the prosecutor’s office to itself. You couldn’t sue them for failure to follow one, and the Attorney General can always override a county prosecutor. Controversially, Savit’s office recently waived one of their policies in the case of a 16-year-old whom they charged as an adult.

I understand the Savit campaign as having four central goals: 

1) Prosecute fewer people, and more leniently; 

2) Reduce racial disparities in prosecution outcomes; 

3) Make court less expensive; and 

4)  Make the prosecutor’s office more transparent

(Obviously there’s a lot more nuance than this—for instance, Savit also stressed prosecuting ‘the right people,’ which included corporate and environmental wrongdoers and ‘violent’ criminals.) 

These goals provide a way to measure the success of the prosecutor in his first two and a half years. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to analyze his record, as he has largely failed to increase transparency of the office. Savit’s promise to build “a web-based platform which tracks metrics like recidivism, the length of sentences obtained, expenditures of taxpayer resources, and the number of people receiving diversion opportunities,” has not materialized. Thirty months into Savit’s term, we haven’t heard a peep from the supposed Prosecutor Transparency Project since its inception.

Thus, the first verdict.

Verdict 1: Savit has failed to achieve any real transparency in the prosecutor’s office. 

Having said that, it does seem that the new policies have had some good effects. According to Savit, as of June of this year his office had declined to bring over 150 charges because of these policies. There is also a possibility that the police in Washtenaw have actually stopped arresting people for offenses like sex work. If that’s true, then the number of charges that have been reduced due to these policies is even higher. Reducing arrests is a very good thing

The one source of statistical data for the county prosecutor’s office we do have access to is from the state of Michigan. Caseload numbers are provided—though only for 2019, 2020, and 2021, and there are very few details. Of those three, the year with the most criminal cases was 2019, under Mackie (with 1,427 cases); that year also saw the highest rate of guilty pleas: 62%. The other two years, 2020 under Mackie and 2021 under Savit, saw similar numbers of total cases (with 1,009 and 1,112 respectively), and rates of guilty pleas (46% and 49% respectively). Notably, it seems that the prosecutor’s office under Savit dismissed as many cases in 2021 (86), as Mackie’s office did in the previous two years combined (87). 

These numbers, to me, are inconclusive. The Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown were happening in 2020 as well as in 2021. It’s unclear how the pandemic affected these numbers.  

The next method we have to evaluate the prosecutor’s office is through its policies. 

Savit’s policies on drug decriminalization are a good place to start—they make up four of his ten new policies. They also don’t go far enough.

Decriminalizing three illegal drugs means that the failed War on Drugs will continue in Washtenaw County for 94% of the drugs that were illegal when Savit came into office. He has not decriminalized the illegal drugs that make up a majority of arrests—heroin and cocaine. And he has not decriminalized crack cocaine. Crack is the drug most associated with the destruction of Black communities from the War on Drugs, and one of the only drugs that African-Americans report using more than Caucasian-Americans. 

We can also surmise that the prosecutor’s drug policies probably perpetuate racial disparities in prosecution. According to the National Institute of Health, the drugs he’s decriminalized are all ones that Caucasian-American people report using at higher rates than African-American people.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In 2020 voters in the state of Oregon overrode their elected officials by decriminalizing all drugs. Eli Savit actually named this case as one of the “drug policy reforms [that] are uniting Americans at a time of deep political division” in his own article!

Verdict 2: Savit’s drug policies strengthen racial disparities in prosecution. They continue to subject most ‘offenders’ to the brutality of the War on Drugs.

Let’s get back to Jackson.

We started putting the pieces together. He’d been pulled over—didn’t know why. He was taken to the county jail. Later we found out that he’d had a gun. That’s what they got him for. Same as 2018. 

Within a week, Jackson was out on bond.

He was shaken, though he seemed pretty normal before too long. The man’s got chutzpah. There was one noticeable difference. Call it… a glint in his eye. In one night, Jackson’s life had been toppled; he was facing up to nine life-crushing years in prison, and a permanent scarlet letter after re-entering society. But he knew that he didn’t deserve that sentence or anything like it. He knew he was no danger to society, and that that was evident to anyone talking to him. And he’d been to the George Floyd protests. He knew people were sick of the criminal injustices in this country and would be shocked to see how the courts actually work here in Washtenaw County. He also knew that he’d recently helped elect a progressive prosecutor.

What happens next is that Jackson, this quiet history nerd turned handyman turned UM sociologist, transforms once again—into an insurgent political actor in Washtenaw County. 

By the end of April, Jackson’s name was on the lips of Eli Savit, Assistant Chief Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton-Harris, leading candidates for county sheriff Alyshia Dyer and Derrick Jackson, and the folks at Supreme Felons. He spoke at an Ann Arbor Rally for Abolition, and he made a video which shed light on the cruelty and hypocrisy of 14A District Court Judge Cedric Simpson and linked his own case to high-profile police murder victims Tyre Nichols and Patrick Lyoya. (I recommend watching the video. It pissed a lot of people off.)

And then so much else happens. Jackson is incessant like somebody who might never see summer again. Here are some highlights:

– On the approval of his Public Defender, Jackson attempts to give Eli Savit’s office a USB drive explaining his particular case and asking for mercy—instead, he gets a restraining order.

– Jackson discovers that the Chief Public Defender in Washtenaw County, Delphia Simpson, is Judge Cedric Simpson’s sister—this means that at one point his lawyer is working for his judge’s sister. 

– Savit’s campaign promise to stop cash bail does not affect the $10,000 bond set for Jackson’s initial release.

– In June, before one of his court dates, a Rally for Jackson brings local abolitionists to the county courthouse—the event is held by the Graduate Employees’ Organization at U of M and Defend Affordable Ypsi (livestream can be found here).

– A suspicious pattern emerges: it seems that every time Jackson goes public with accusations of injustice, some aspect of the prosecutorial ‘justice system’ retaliates. For example, the day after speaking at the Abolition Rally, he’s put on drug testing during Eid, despite there being no drug component to his charges; the day after the Rally for Jackson, a $200 court fine from eight years ago resurfaces with the threat of jail time. 

– At the court hearing regarding the $200 fine, Jackson delivers a gut-wrenching statement revealing more tragedy linked to his past interactions with the criminal justice system. He reveals that his grandmother died while he was in jail in 2015, that he could not attend her funeral, and that he could not show his grief in jail for fear of being targeted for perceived weakness.

– Finally, Jackson becomes involved in the Ann Arbor City Council’s decision to implement a city-wide ban on Pretext Stops.

Pretext Stops turn out to be the thread that unravels this whole ball of yarn.

A ‘Pretext Stop’ is an official name for when police profile motorists. It happens when a police officer pulls someone over for some minor violation as a pretext to investigate more serious crimes. Maybe police follow someone leaving a ‘suspicious’ location, wait for the driver to make a minor mistake, and then pull them over. Or maybe a driver is a young Black man and a cop just has ‘a feeling’—and finds an excuse to investigate. 

USC Professor Kelsey Shoub: “‘Driving while black’ is very much a thing; it’s everywhere and it’s… across the United States. [Also] it appears to be more systemic than a few ‘bad apple’ officers engaged in racial profiling.” In a study of 20 million traffic stops, Shoub found that 1) Black drivers were 95% more likely to be pulled over than other drivers, 2) Black drivers were 115% more likely to be searched than white drivers, all while 3) white drivers were more likely to have contraband than Black drivers. 

Jamila Hodge and Akhi Johnson with the Vera Institute proved that this disparity arrives almost entirely from Pretext Stops. Their research separated traffic stops into two categories: ‘must stop’ situations in which public safety is at risk, and unnecessary stops. They showed that “virtually all of the wide racial disparity” stemming from pullovers was due to the unnecessary stops. In a way, they provide us with a different interpretation of ‘Pretext Stop.’ Since we can’t know what a given cop is thinking—we can look instead to whether the pullover needed to happen for public safety… or whether it didn’t. 

The amount of harm stemming from Pretext Stops is hard to quantify. In 2021, Black people in the U.S. were more than twice as likely as the population to be murdered by a police officer. The same year, Black Americans were a shocking five times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans. Pretext Stops account for a large portion of both of those disparities. The DOJ report out of Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015 shows that police use pullovers and arrest as a way to strip the liberty of Black motorists, and enforce a nightmare of financial and psychological ruin on the unlucky. Black Americans are well aware of this reality.

The injustice of Pretext Stops cuts to the heart of the entire carceral system in this country. In fact—a recent study found that in the four California cities they examined, the majority of police department resources are spent on traffic stops and 80% of those are for minor violations. Traffic stops are also “the most common proactive policing activity preceding a fatality.” Pretext Stops may also be unconstitutional

We spend so much taxpayer money in the U.S. paying police to pull over Black, brown, and poor people that it has warped our entire view of ‘crime’ itself. When so much time and resources are spent on the most minor violations, it’s no wonder that the news discusses shoplifting but not wage theft —a much more lucrative crime in America. The media teaches us that ‘criminals’ do not look like CEO’s, that they look poor and often are people of color, and our policing confirms it for us. 

The Vera Institute report concludes with a simple recommendation to prosecutors, especially ones like Eli Savit: In order to “combat systemic inequities,” prosecutors should simply “decline cases based on pretext stops.” 

Thinking back to the four central goals of Savit’s campaign—ending charges based on Pretext Stops would go a long way in reducing total charges and reducing racial disparities in prosecution. Here we have a simple and effective way to deliver on those promises.

Eli Savit agreed.

The ninth policy that Savit introduced into the prosecutor’s office is about Pretext Stops. Quoting from the county’s website: “[T]he Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer prosecute contraband cases that arise from ‘pretext stops.’” 

The Pretext Stop policy secured Savit as a poster child for data-driven, compassionate, prosecution. In an incredible interview with WXYZ Detroit, Savit joins Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton to explain precisely how and why Pretext Stops are harmful and why they are not worth the harm they cause. One more caveat to Savit’s policy is revealed: apparently, “if a stop leads to finding a murder weapon, or a large amount of drugs, a prosecution can continue.” The video (which I highly recommend) lauds Washtenaw County and the Savit-Clayton partnership as breaking ground in compassionate prosecution.

This leaves us with an awkward question: If the county prosecutor is no longer pressing charges from Pretext Stops, why does the city of Ann Arbor need to make its own policy limiting Pretext Stops as it did this July?

Jackson brought all this to my attention. 

He and I have been talking endlessly since he was arrested. He knows I’m ‘into local politics,’ and his arrest happened at a time when multiple people around me were starting to question the merit of our new progressive prosecutor. This contradiction regarding Pretext Stops turned into a veritable mystery. The stakes are high: Savit talks a huge game about racial justice and equity, and his Pretext Stop policy is at the heart of those claims.

But on the night of March 11, two of Clayton’s Washtenaw County Sheriffs pulled Jackson over for failure to signal. In a residential neighborhood. With nobody around. At 2am. 

It was a Pretext Stop.

The cops found a gun—which is considered contraband. No murder weapon, no drugs. 

Why, then, is progressive Eli Savit charging Jackson with multiple felonies carrying a maximum of nine years? Shouldn’t, by Savit’s own claim, Jackson’s charges be dropped?

Eli Savit upset the local Democratic party favorite, Arianne Slay, by wielding the language of compassion—“pretext stops are… inextricably intertwined with racial profiling.” Somehow that compassion disappears at 2 a.m. on a temperate March night in Ypsi Twp. 

We are victims of a bait-and-switch. 

Hiding beneath Savit’s language of transformative justice, of the horrors of racial injustice in our prisons and courts, and of how prosecution can become progressive, there is… an asterisk. 

In order to locate it, you have to first find the Pretext Stop policy on the county prosecutor website, then you have to click the link at the bottom of the page for the ‘full policy,’ and then three pages into that you can read what Savit’s policy has actually done. 

Savit’s Pretext Stop policy, in reality, only applies to a small fraction of Pretext Stops. Specifically, those in which a driver gives consent to an officer to search their car after a Pretext Stop occurs. Contraband found in that way will no longer be prosecuted by Savit’s office… unless, of course, they make an exception.

The cornerstone racial justice policy in the prosecutor’s playbook only applies to a few people who just didn’t know their rights. According to Savit, his office has declined just 22 such cases since he’s been in office. Less than one a month. For something that happens many times a day. 

We don’t know what percentage of the total charges coming from Savit’s office originated from Pretext Stops. My guess is that it’s a lot. The prosecutor has claimed to “…no longer prosecute contraband cases that arise from ‘pretext stops,’” while likely still charging a vast majority of them.

Verdict 3: Savit’s Pretext Stop policy is a false promise.

It didn’t matter that Jackson was stopped for no good reason, even though Savit ran on not pursuing such charges. The well of progressive compassion dried up long before Jackson took the stand. He gets a restraining order in exchange for begging for his life. He gets to pay the court an eight-year-old fee he can’t afford, or face additional jail time. He gets an ankle monitor. He gets daily drug testing. He faces nine years.

Jackson’s case reveals the deep harm of Pretext Stops—and how, using Savit’s words, they can “trap” people “in the criminal system.” The only reason Jackson wasn’t allowed to carry a gun in March of 2023 is because of his ‘improperly registered firearm’ charge in 2018. Want to guess why Jackson was arrested then? He was pulled over. For having ‘a suspicious license plate.’ It was legal.

Today, Eli Savit’s office is pursuing three charges against Jackson. 

Here’s what supposedly happened the night he was arrested:

First, the Pretext Stop. Failure to signal. Next, Jackson allegedly didn’t have his driver’s license on him. He had a license. Just not on him. Terrible misfortunes like this underline the arbitrary dimension of our criminal justice system.

Third, the sheriffs told him to exit the vehicle. Jackson did so, but then allegedly turned to run away. One of the sheriffs tackled him. 

Charge 1: Felon in Possession of a Firearm

Charge 2: Felon in Possession of Ammunition

Charge 3: Felonious Carrying a Concealed Weapon (CCW)

Charge 4: Resisting and Obstructing Arrest (R&O)

Charge 5: Resisting and Obstructing Arrest (R&O)

There are two R&O charges because there were two officers. Savit is deciding that’s reasonable. Two years each. 

The gun charges: five years. 

Maximum nineteen years. For having a gun that would have been legal in a few months, and for trying to run away from a nightmare. Jackson did not wield a weapon, threaten anybody, rob anything—nothing like that. These are non-violent offenses, with no victims. 

Shihab Jackson outside the 22nd Circuit Court during the Rally for Jackson

Not only is Savit still prosecuting contraband charges from Pretext Stops, Jackson is exactly the sort of person that Savit promised to be lenient with no matter how the case comes about. Jackson is, quite literally, the test case for Savit’s progressivism, and Savit is failing the test.

Verdict 4: Savit does not show leniency for non-violent, victimless, defendants.

We should have expected this. The criminal justice system in this country is shot through with subjectivity. On the part of the cops, the judges, the prosecutors, the jury, and the public. In a recent interview Ypsi Twp. organizer Alex Thomas described his time working with Savit on his campaign—stating that there was “a collective ‘buyer’s remorse’ around Eli,” and that he regrets the “benefit of the doubt” he gave Savit as he helped him campaign (Alex’s remarks come at around the 49-minute mark of the interview). 

When we hear Savit say, as he does on his website, that our “tax dollars will no longer be used to lock people up who pose little danger,” he is not saying what we think he is. When Eli Savit uses words like ‘danger,’ ‘nonviolent,’ and even ‘victimless,’ we have to get concrete promises in writing; and they cannot be full of asterisks like Savit’s policies are. 

Savit, like all of us, was brought up in a world where the collective conceptualization of ‘crime’ emphasizes Black, brown, and poor people, and petty offenses rather than systemic ones. The Citizens for Racial Equity Washtenaw (CREW) report demonstrates how, in this county, punishment for gun ownership is extremely racially disparate. The CREW report found that between 2013-2019, Black people in Washtenaw were 75 times more likely to be charged with a ‘felony firearm’ than white people. ‘Felony firearm’ is a charge brought in addition to another felony charge; whether to bring the charge is completely at the prosecutor’s discretion. It seems that when we crack the door for some subjectivity, racially disparate outcomes bust through.

The trial of Eli Savit and the trial of Shihab Jackson are connected.

In concluding the trial of Savit, we must deeply consider the trial of Jackson—and Black gun ownership is at the heart of Jackson’s case. There is a history that we are not taught: the battle over ‘gun control,’ or ‘gun rights,’ in this country will always be deeply linked to race. If you are someone who considers ‘gun control’ one of your political beliefs, I encourage you to be open to some criticism here. Because, historically, Black gun ownership has been a primary mechanism for self-defense in the Black community. 

In 1892, Ida B. Wells wrote of the “Southern Horrors” happening across the Reconstruction-era American South: lynchings. She wrote: “Of the many inhuman outrages of this present year, the only case where the proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed themselves… and prevented it.… a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home.” 

In Jacksonville FL in 1960, young Black protesters at a nonviolent lunch counter sit-in were attacked by a mob of white residents in an event known as Axe Handle Saturday. The protesters, and other Black people in the area, were saved when an organized group of armed Black community members (known as “The Boomerangs”) rode in and helped people escape to a church. When the Boomerangs arrived, the cops joined the white mob. Stories like this abound in U.S. history. 

Anti-Black hate crime is one of the only types of crime that is actually increasing in this country today. With a 58% rise in gun ownership in 2020 alone, many Black people seem to think there is still a need for armed self-protection—a “rifle in every black home.”

The history is still so present that the imprint of the racial violence of the Reconstruction era still exists in patterns of gun ownership today: U.S. counties that had higher levels of enslavement in 1860 still have higher rates of gun ownership. Clemson economists found that in the Jim Crow South there was a clear correllation between Black gun ownership and a reduction in lynchings. “When black Americans couldn’t count on the cops to protect them, guns made a difference.” 

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the legacy of modern gun control policy began as a reaction to members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense openly carrying rifles in 1967 California. Following the Black Panthers’ demonstration, the NRA fully backed the Mulford Act, a Republican initiative to ban open carry (read that again). The Mulford Act was a continuation of the Jim Crow era, during which pistol bans were intended for, and selectively enforced against, Black people. 

As of 2022, white people still associate “gun rights” with white people, and “gun control” with Black people. This association increases in respondents that showed anti-Black sentiments. The National Institute of Health (NIH) found that white gun owners are more likely to hold anti-Black attitudes than average.

Horrifically, lynchings still happen. According to Mississippi Civil Rights Attorney Jill Collen Jefferson, Black men and teens have been extrajudicially hanged at least eight times in Mississippi in the last 20 years. 

She says: “There is a pattern to how these cases are investigated. When authorities arrive on the scene of a hanging, it’s treated as a suicide almost immediately. The crime scene is not preserved. The investigation is shoddy. And then there is a formal ruling of suicide, despite evidence to the contrary. And the case is never heard from again unless someone brings it up.”

If Jefferson is right, then U.S. cops in the 21st century are helping cover up racist murders. 

Jackson is a history and politics nerd who’s also Black. He is well aware of the realities described above, and he’ll bring them up at length if you ask him about gun rights. It’s not his fault if Eli Savit, or anyone else, isn’t aware of them.

For the record, like the Black Panthers, Jackson carried a gun for self-defense. The dude isn’t five-foot-three on a good day, and he spends a lot of time riding around town alone… and doing paid labor in backyards of white neighborhoods. And in 2020, he got jumped. He got the shit beat out of him, randomly, on Michigan Ave.

I’m not trying to say, with all this history, that Jackson was armed at any point because he thought a racist white mob was going to materialize. I also don’t think that such a possibility should be taken lightly. My point is that different people are at different risk of different forms of violence, may have legitimate reasons for wanting to be armed that others may not understand, and have differing extents to which they can expect the police to protect or harm them in any heightened situation. 

Jackson can’t win. Arrested during a Pretext Stop, for having a gun he’s not allowed to have because of a previous Pretext Stop. The system that has criminalized him is the same one that has made it logical to carry a firearm in the first place. 

Nineteen years is an inconceivable amount of time to be separated from society, and all while enduring the grossly inhumane treatment of prisoners in this country. I also know how hard it is to find employment and housing in 2023 as it is. I can’t imagine trying to do all that with all the setbacks associated with being a felon

But Jackson can.

We are conditioned to think that somebody running away from arrest is a further indictment of them. But someone running away from the cops is an indictment of the criminal justice system itself. We don’t have to live in a place where “the justice system” is terrifying. 

I was naïve to think Eli Savit might understand that.

It’s time for this story to come to a close. 

We have two men on trial: both Jackson’s and Savit’s futures are up-for-grabs.

Jackson is at risk of enduring a hellscape in prison and afterwards. Savit’s future political prospects are in the hands of the people of Washtenaw County. The stakes could not be more disparate. There are implications for every single person in the county: Savit’s course of action in Jackson’s case will also reflect how he will dictate the prosecution of the law into the future. 

As it stands, the following charges are levied against Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit:

Verdict 1: Savit has failed to achieve any real transparency in the prosecutor’s office. 

Verdict 2: Savit’s drug policies strengthen racial disparities in prosecution. They continue to subject most ‘offenders’ to the brutality of the War on Drugs.

Verdict 3: Savit’s Pretext Stop policy is a false promise.

Verdict 4: Savit does not show leniency for non-violent, victimless, defendants.

Verdict 5: Considering both drug and Pretext Stop policies, Savit is unlikely to reduce racial disparities in prosecution.

Verdict 6: Overall, Savit has failed in his promise to “remake our prosecutor’s office so that it’s focused on ensuring justice for all.

We deserve better.

We can also have better. The prosecutor’s office has not been pressured to live up to campaign promises—at least not nearly enough. I hope this article might help in organizing a community-wide understanding, and (constructive) criticism, of Eli Savit’s time in office thus far. 

I also hope that you will help keep the microscope up to our progressive prosecutor. Savit can be contacted, protested, debated, investigated, and implicated. 

Our community needs Jackson, and he needs us. But Jackson is not unique in deserving compassion. And Savit is not unique in passing false promises. My final verdict is that progressive prosecution is a bandage on an infected wound. We need to be brave enough to dismantle systems from their root.

Satisfaction of the following three demands of Prosecutor Savit would not do enough, but they would help ensure that his central campaign goals are accomplished:

  1. Cease all prosecution of drug-related incidents
  2. Cease all prosecution of any charges resulting from a Pretext Stop—defined as any non-emergency stop
  3. Drop all charges against Jackson; provide him an opportunity to clear his record

These are the ones I’ve come up with. What would you add to the list?

Thanks to Alex Thomas, Desirae Simmons, Liz Demonte, Pippa Ross, and Zach Nichols

Special Thanks to Jared Eno, Amber Fellows, Casia Levine, Shihab Jackson, and Eli Savit